Some of the more intriguing objects in the collection have characteristics that show evidence of a previous owner’s interaction with them. A good example of this recently came through the lab for an enclosure.
This copy of Walter Crane’s The Bases of Design (1898) is wrapped in a protective cloth cover, likely handmade by a previous owner. The cover is signed Naomi S. Gray at the tail of the spine, so we can only assume that she was the person who made it. These kinds of home-made book jackets are not all that uncommon, but the amount of detail in it’s design and construction is pretty extraordinary. The actual design of the publisher’s binding looks like this:
The design of the titling on the spine of the case is copied faithfully onto the jacket – but rather than continue with the floral motif of the publisher’s design, a small drawing of a crane is included to represent the author. A hem and single line of stitching at the head and tail of the jacket spine was added to prevent the cloth from unraveling where it is cut. The turn-ins on the interior of the boards show an equal level of care.
Lacing with ribbon or cord in this fashion is often seen in home-made book jackets of this style. In most cases, the materials used appear to be cheap scrap. Rarely do we see hemmed turn-ins and individual stitching around the lacing holes.
The attention to detail in so many aspects of the design and construction of this book jacket tells not only a great deal about the appreciation that Naomi had for this book, but showcases her excellent hand skills. In many ways, the evidence of ownership can stir a greater connection to the object than the text itself.
Apparently the afternoon before a holiday is a good day for an impromptu Boxing Day We all decided independently that making boxes was a good thing to do today. There are so many boxes being made all at once it is epic.
Somehow we are all working around each other at the board shear in a (mostly) seamless dance. All these stats are a great way to start the new fiscal year.
As you recall, our intern’s first few days were a little hectic. Since our last post Garrette has learned how to repair manuscript materials for digitization, learned how to humidify and flatten architectural drawings, and continues to refine her boxing skills.
This week Garrette helped re-install the two Audubon double elephant folios in the exhibits suite. These were removed earlier in the year to make way for the “500 Hundred Years of Women’s Work” exhibit. It took four of us about an hour to reinstall these two volumes. The birds were greatly missed but they are back on display with new page openings.
We toured the Library Service Center this week with colleagues from the University Archives and the Rubenstein Library. Earl Alston, LSC Access and Delivery Coordinator, gave us a behind the scenes tour of the stacks. Every time we visit LSC we are impressed with the amount of work the LSC staff do every day. It’s hard, physical labor that is mostly invisible to patrons.
In the lab today we hosted a tour for our colleagues in the Digital Collections and Curation Services department. Garrette gave a terrific presentation on the humidification and flattening work that she is doing for the Duke Gardens collection. These are rolled drawings depicting the Garden’s hardscapes and greenscapes that show the evolution of Duke Gardens.
Later this week we will tour the UNC-Chapel Hill conservation labs. We also have Garrette working on some disaster recovery projects for the Triangle Research Library Network as well. She is getting a good picture of what collections conservators do on a daily basis from treatment to disaster preparation to meetings to surveys.
The library loans a large number of items from various collections to other libraries and museums each year for exhibitions. The typical loan agreement is for a small number of items (usually less than 10), but occasionally we get a loan request that is much larger. It is important to document the condition of each object that is borrowed, and we do this by creating a condition report. Condition reports document any pre-existing conditions of a collection item (or lack thereof) and help to establish the responsible party for any future damage. A good report allows anyone handling the object to check and compare the condition of the item as it is packed and moved between destinations.
There are no standards for the length or format of a condition report. For many years, our reports have taken the form of a simple text document that includes an object’s identifying information, a brief description, and notes about any condition issues. In addition to the report, we take photographs of the object and save them to a networked drive.
This form has served us well until now, but in the next year we are facing some much larger loans. We began to wonder if there was a way to more quickly and accurately document the condition of an item, while still maintaining good record keeping practices. In recent years, a number of conservators have developed methods for adding photographs and digital annotations to their condition reports. With the increased functionality and reduced cost of portable touch-screen devices, the time seemed right to experiment with new documentation methods.
At the most recent AIC Annual Meeting, I attended a talk by Katrina Rush, Associate Paintings Conservator at the The Menil Collection, on digital condition reporting using Apple devices. While the method she presented appeared viable for our needs, we needed to use hardware and software that could be fully supported by our IT department. We recently acquired a Surface Book 2, which combines the versatility of a laptop and a tablet in one Windows device. The accompanying stylus allows the user to precisely annotate images and the portability means that we can bring it along with the items as they travel. The attached camera could be useful for documenting the item outside the lab.
I began designing a new condition report template in Microsoft OneNote. This program allows us to include all the same information from the old form, as well as insert and annotate images. There are also some handy time-saving features like working checkboxes and timestamps. I have included an example of an item documented with the new form here.
At this stage in development, I am conducting “trial runs” with the new form and device. So far I have not been timing myself, but completing the report seems to go very quickly. For much larger loans, I have successfully tested workarounds using “mail merge” to generate the tables of bibliographic data for many items at once. I’ve found it very easy to fill out the fields and to drag and drop images into the form. While the drawing tools are extensive, it would probably be helpful to develop a standard legend of specific colors to describe common condition issues. Exporting the report to a more preservation-friendly file format (like PDF) is easy enough, but can require some adjustments to keep page breaks from splitting an image.
As this new documentation method gets more use, we will likely continue to adapt it. In the coming months I hope to share some of the lessons we learn and the resulting workflows on this blog.
Our new intern, Garrette Lewis-Thomas, has arrived and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Garrette is our second HBCU Library Alliance conservation intern. Like last year, she will spend eight weeks with us learning everything from minor repairs to making heat set tissue to preparing materials for digitization.
Garrette is a student at Fisk University where she is studying psychology and sociology. She works at the John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library assisting the Access Services Desk. Her interest in John Hope Franklin fits in well with our collecting areas and we are excited to work with the Rubenstein John Hope Franklin Center to find some projects for her to work on.
The very first thing we did is take Garrette to a job talk by a candidate who applied for a library position. She got to see first hand what a job interview looks like in an academic library. The interview was at another location on campus, so she also got to learn how to get across campus during the summer on the bus. Day 1 was a little chaotic but it all worked out. She got a tour of a part of campus that we didn’t expect would happen on Day 1. It is a good reminder that not everything goes as planned.
Day 2 brought another problem…something smelled terrible in the lab. It’s still unclear what the problem is or where it is coming from. Because we couldn’t be in the lab for any length of time we decamped to the Disaster Supply Room next door. We took the CoLibri machine in along with the newly-arrived shipment of vendor-supplied corrugated boxes. Garrette spent the day covering New & Noteworthy books and folding boxes. In the afternoon we hopped the bus to East Campus and toured through the Music Library and the Lilly Library. Lesson learned: there is always something to do to be productive even when you can’t get to your bench.
It still smells in the lab, but it is getting better. Current theory: something dead is in the tunnels below the building and there isn’t anything we can do about it. We are airing out the lab and doing our best to ride this out. Garrette is working on minor repairs and enclosures. We started the day in the Disaster Supply Room, but have moved back into the lab with all the fans running and doors open. Garrette has already proven to be very flexible, adaptable to change, and eager to learn. We can’t wait to see what the summer holds for her and for us.
Thanks to our supporters
These HBCU Library Alliance internships would not be possible without the help of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the University of Delaware College of Arts and Science, the Department of Art Conservation at the University of Delaware, and the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library (DE). Thanks also to Debbie Hess Norris and Melissa Tedone at the University of Delaware. A big thanks to We also wish to thank the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for supporting this internship.
We will continue sharing more about this internship as it progresses, but for now: Welcome to Duke, Garrette!
You remember we recently purchased a new suction table. Today we have the great honor of having Soyeon Choi, Head Conservator, Works of Art on Paper at the Yale Center for British Art here teaching us the tips and tricks to get the most from our new equipment.
Our colleagues Jan Paris and Rebecca Smyrl from UNC-Chapel Hill are here, as is Kesha Talbert form Etherington Conservation Center. We are all having fun and learning a lot from each other.
We have a bunch of discarded and found materials to work on. No actual collections are being tested today. This morning we are learning how to humidify and flatten vellum and paper. This afternoon we are talking about washing and stain reduction. It’s fun to have a day to learn new techniques and to share with our colleagues.
A few of us travelled to Connecticut this week to attend the Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC). It has been a very busy couple of days, listening to talks, reading research posters, and looking at the latest in conservation equipment and materials. As always, there is so much quality programming and not enough time to see it all. I’m feeling a bit if FOMO (fear of missing out) and, by the end of the week, my brain is pretty full. I’m looking forward to our department’s recap of the conference to review my notes and further digest everything I’ve learned.
Last April we got our new freezer delivered. The first thing we did with it was to set up a table-top disaster situation* so our intern and new staff member could gain experience working with damp and wet books.
That was back in July 2018. The books have been in the freezer since. This week I remembered them as I was working on this year’s internship schedule, so I went to get them out of the freezer. When I opened the door I saw this:
At some point a part broke, allowing the water drain to malfunction and create this frozen waterfall inside the freezer. The freezer was two weeks out of warranty (of course) but the awesome people at Fisher Scientific waived the repair fee, sent a repair person, and it is now fixed.
If you don’t have a clear-glass door on your freezer, put a reminder on your calendar to look inside once in a while. We will now check inside the freezer once a month as part of our monthly staff meeting agenda.
*No actual library books were harmed during this experiment.
Happy May Day! Today is not just for dancing around the maypole and celebrating International Workers Day. May Day is also the traditional day to prepare for an emergency in your cultural institution. Are you ready?
Today we invite you to do one thing to prepare for an emergency. If you don’t know where to start, we have some ideas for you below and in previous posts. Put 15 minutes on your calendar and pick one thing to do today.
Check your disaster kit. Do you need to restock or replace anything? Do you have a pair of warm socks in there? Do your emergency clothes still fit? [trust me…you want to know this ahead of time]
Review your emergency phone tree. Are the correct people listed and the phone numbers still correct? If you don’t have a phone tree, make one today. List those critical people who need to be contacted first to get a recovery going. That might include the director, the communications director, the person who has the power to buy supplies on the spot, and a few people who can start the recovery process. It can be as simple as that. The Pocket Response Plan from the Council of State Archivists is a great customizable template and it fits in your pocket.
Review your disaster plan. What’s missing or needs updating? Are there people listed that don’t work there anymore? Have the phone numbers changed? You don’t have to make all of those changes today, but make an appointment on your calendar to do it…then DO it!
If you are not the one responsible for disaster planning or recovery in your institution, find out who is and ask for a copy of the disaster plan. And remember, if it is in electronic form, be sure to print out a copy and take it home. The internet doesn’t work when the power is out and cell phone towers are down.